The Christian image of women and what the education of young noble girls has to do with it.
Updated: Feb 3
My dear friends, my dear women,
In the Middle Ages there was something called mirror education.
It was character training by imitation, by holding up an ideal. The ideal that was chosen was unattainably high, idealized, and embodied desirable virtues that would eradicate one's own bad character.
It was applied to young girls and women.
The Catholic Church's image of women was disastrous. The outlook for women- was as well.
Thomas Aquinas, a revered name to this day, statued that "in every woman lurks an Eve to beware of." He held that women were far inferior to men, as evidenced by their frail appearance. Women were considered gossipy, stupid, naturally lethargic, addicted to snacking, deceitful, addicted to sin, seductresses, egotistical and undisciplined. The woman in herself was - in short - considered a total failure, a punishment from God.
In an earlier article (Weekly Impulses: The Woman at the Well) I already included the quotation that summarizes this attitude, and to which, ancient or not, the Church Fathers referred:
"Woman, in her individual appearance, is the product of a process of procreation that does not proceed in full perfection" (Aristotle)
In other clear words, "Bad sex begets girls."
Deficient. Worthless, a financial burden - and at best salvageable from their badness by bearing children - sons.
The education of young girls was correspondingly rigid. Each of the supposedly bad qualities was countered by discipline:
Girls were not allowed to be naked. From the earliest age, they were not allowed to see themselves naked even alone at the bath tub, in order not to face their own shameful dirtiness. They had to get up early in the morning, after a maximum of 4-5 hours of sleep, and worked late into the evening to "eradicate their laziness." They were allowed to speak only when asked something, and had to lower their eyes to work against showiness and garrulity. Where reading was taught (writing usually was not), only legends of saints and the Bible were allowed as literature. They were taught to sing (psalms), embroider, knit and sew. They were taught to keep house, but they were not allowed to leave the house alone. In many cases they did not allow dancing or revelry, because they saw in it the temptation of the devil. Writing was forbidden because it was assumed that otherwise the chaste virgins would write love messages to any man who came along and tempt them to sin. They had to cover themselves completely. Everything about them was considered sinful: Breasts, calves, bare arms, hair. They were not allowed to run or take big steps. With their eyes lowered, they had to patter - small steps with grace and modesty were the order of the day. Their food portions were reduced to counteract their sweet tooth. They were allowed only muted colors. Anything more than that was considered vicious and therefore fair game. In general, girls were considered easily seducible, provocative, fallen women who were the temptation of men. Significantly, the Vatican maintained entire brothel streets where clergymen threatened prostitutes with excommunication if they were not compliant with the johns. They called it the cesspool of society for the protection of virgins, the evil to be condoned, because men could not be expected to exercise self-control.
But the mirror was taken away from girls of status and honor. Instead of the mirror, images of saints were placed. Saint Susanna, Saint Elizabeth. Mary.
They were supposed to function as role models, as ideals in which girls were supposed to reflect obedience and submission, piety and exemplary character.
I could hardly hide my horror when I caught sight of the first circulating Christian royal daughters pictures: Chaste, young girls in expensive gowns that barely let them breathe, beautiful to look at, being asked to be like Ruth. Like Esther. Like Mary.
Be humble like Mary! Be faithful like Ruth! Be wise like Esther!
"From Ruth you can learn...from Mary you can learn..."
But the bestseller is and remains the woman from Proverbs 31, as the ideal image of the eternally industrious and submissive woman- modified, locked into pious corsets- and purged of any self-assertion and actual authority.
Is it the conservative churches, the bigots, who spread these memes? No, not at all: it is a movement that spills over to us as the Bride of Christ movement, bringing back all the prudery and subtle devaluation and restriction of women in more modern garb.
Very few of us can identify with it. That's not what it's for- it's for showing us our own failure on a daily basis. To the timid through the strong Ruth, to the forward through the humble Mary.
It is nothing more than mirror pedagogy designed to educate Christian women to humility and obedience.
Women were not allowed to defend themselves in the Middle Ages.
Rape and chastisement up to manslaughter was not uncommon. God-fearing women were taught never to raise a hand against men, that they were born to lovingly endure their whims, their affairs, their infidelities, their violence and any humiliation.
To this day, Christian women struggle with the question of whether they may divorce an abusive, violent, unfaithful, degrading husband. To this day, Christian women question whether they have the right to "refuse a man"; to this day, sexuality and one's own femininity are tainted with shame to an extent that is frightening. And to this day, it is usually the woman who is stripped of her offices in the event of a couple's separation in the community, who is forced to return to violent marriages or leave the community in disgrace while the man remains in the community.
And the other convictions?
"You're going to go dawdling? Don't spend so much money, though!" (wastefulness)
"Oh, there you go gossiping again!" (Indiscretion and deceitfulness)
"It was her own fault that he grabbed her - who runs around like that..." (the seductress)
"She must be having her period, the way she is!" (impurity, moodiness)
"What have you been doing all day?" (laziness)
"Why did Jesus make the women witnesses of his resurrection? Then everyone knew right away!!! (Chattiness).
We don't even notice how much the clichés about women are dominated until today by this bred and again and again dug out image, which was propagated until modern times.
But what we don't realize above all is how much we ourselves accept it as truth about us and are taught it until today.
I hardly know a woman who doesn't struggle with self-esteem problems, who doesn't maltreat her body in some way - whether with diets, workouts or in extreme cases with scratching and self-flagellation because she doesn't conform to the ideal.
I hardly know a woman who feels comfortable in her skin, who lives her sexuality in a liberated way, who is not traumatized by experiences of violence and abuse, psychological devaluation and injury. In fact, I don't know any woman who has never experienced sexual lewdness and assault. To this day, women fear not appearing feminine enough, taking too big a step, laughing too loudly, or having said something naughty. They are afraid of raising their voices, not looking good, or being too immodest. They are afraid of being too lazy and drive themselves to perfectionism.
The wound runs deep.
I hope I've been able to widen the view a bit with this article. We always think it is just our personal story, our personal struggle.
No, dear sisters, it is not. In Germany, marital rape was only banned in the 1980s by a slim majority in the Bundestag. That's not even 50 years, dear women. And most of those who voted against it- were fundamentalist Christians.
I would like to leave it at that for today.
In the weekly articles I will go into more detail on individual aspects. And starting next week, it's about inner healing. About the personal story. And about opposing Jesus' truth to the lies ....
You are beautiful. You are wanted. You are precious. You are chosen. You are justified and sanctified. Time to leave the ICU after your rescue.
Couldn't there be something to it after all? The penchant for beauty? The desire for romance and being wooed? The desire to be seen? The desire for significance and relationship?
Yes, but the desire for being seen, for self-expression and meaning - is not craving for recognition, vanity and pride.
Weekly impulses and deepening are provided -as usual- on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Sibyllezion, on my public profile https://www.facebook.com/Sibylle.Toeller/ (translated) and in the associated English community group https://www.facebook.com/groups/daughterofzion.de . Using the links means consent of a transfer of connection data to Facebook and is assumed when using the links.
Father, Abba: come for your daughters, I pray. In Jesus' name, amen.
Be embraced and blessed today.
Susanne Barth (ed.): Maidenhood. Literary and pedagogical studies on the literature of girls' education between 1200 and 1600. M&P Verlag Stuttgart 1994.
John & Stasi Eldredge: "Captivating- unveiling the mystery of a woman's soul." Expanded edition, Nelson Books 2021.
Stasi Eldredge: "Becoming myself-embracing God's dream for you". David Cook, 2013.
Worship: Ellie Holcomb: Wonderfully made